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Dept. of Awesome Thirteen


I approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation. It's U.S. history, about America's particular, and particularly virulent, racism (which is not to suggest that there isn't virulent racism of various flavors damned near everywhere, but yes, this is in my wheelhouse, so I was worried that it could have been mishandled.) It's written by Brits. The story could have gone very wrong. It didn't, in my opinion. Comments that follow are both Doylist and Watsonian and are under the cut because, while I tried to keep them fairly spoiler-free and I think I was successful, I don't want to take that for granted.

1. The tension level was right, both dramatically and in terms of real history. It was the tension of Every Little Thing Can Get You Killed; the tension of always smiling, in order not to get killed; the tension of pleasant, sunny days, doing ordinary things like working or getting on a bus, and knowing that the person whose suit you tailor, or who takes your fare despises you.
2. The level of reality was not what I'd been afraid it might be. It was far better than I expected, and that was great. It showcased all the tension I mentioned, plus the weary cynicism of knowing, as a black woman, that even the "good" white people have no bloody idea of what you're living with every single day. It knew, and admitted, that victories don't come at the end of a television show's episode, and that even the most complete victories are always going to be partial. The story didn't play fast and loose with actual history. 
3. The actress who played Rosa Parks played her exceedingly well, without histrionics, and with nuance.
4. The American accents, if they were done by non-Americans, didn't pull me away from the story.
5. The Doctor has become a lot smarter about race than she was when she airily told Martha that it didn't matter. I'm so glad about that. Actually, I'm glad about this Doctor, period, full stop. She is great; she is kind, curious (even more curious than previous iterations), brave, quick-thinking, and beautifully suited to working with a team.
6. One continued regret, that Yaz hasn't yet been highlighted the way she should be.
This entry was originally posted at https://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/712611.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comment count unavailable comments. You can comment there or here, but prefer to read over on DW. You can comment there using open ID if you don't have a DW account.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 25th, 2018 06:47 am (UTC)
Being Swedish, and white, I know I don't fully "get" this part of American history, but from my outsider POV I thought it was handled well.

And I adore the new Doctor! Not that there isn't a Doctor I don't like, but given how much I loved Capaldi I wasn't sure I would take to the new one so quickly. But I have. :) I like all the companions too, and I hope Yas will get her day soon.
Oct. 28th, 2018 10:38 pm (UTC)
Belated response; it was done remarkably well. Most white Americans (or Canadians like me, who've been down here for decades) will, if they're honest with themselves. admit that they don't fully get it, but we have been living in the mix long enough to get some kind of feel for what black Americans have had to deal with. I've found myself wondering what black fans thought of the episode.

I still miss Capaldi, but I've become remarkably fond of Thirteen in only three short episodes.
Nov. 1st, 2018 02:30 pm (UTC)
My thoughts exactly, more or less. A couple of the accents did make me wince in a couple of places, but I suspect they would sound okay to people in the UK, which is probably the audience that really matters.

I'm reading my way through the historical Benjamin January mystery novels by Barbara Hambly, and if anyone needs a good primer on what life was like even for a "free man of color" in the pre-Civil War south, combined with some excellent stories, they're definitely worth checking out.
Nov. 2nd, 2018 12:15 am (UTC)
I'm reading my way through the historical Benjamin January mystery novels

I didn't know there were more Benjamin January novels - I read "Fever Season" and was really impressed, both with the story and the obvious depth of her research. Good to know there are more!
Nov. 5th, 2018 06:57 pm (UTC)
There's a ton more! I haven't read every single one of them, but you definitely should check out...

Wet Grave--there's a scene with Shaw, January, and a 16-foot alligator that should not be missed. It also has a ridiculously happy ending.

Days of the Dead--set in Mexico--a bit thin on plot but the historical details and the creepy atmosphere more than make up for it.

The Shirt on His Back--my absolute favorite of the entire series, set out on the frontier--again, tremendous amount of historical detail and wonderful atmosphere.

Ran Away--the first third of the novel is an extended flashback to when a younger January was living in Paris with his first wife.

Good Man Friday--January travels to Washington, DC to track down a missing friend of his sister's lover. Guest cast includes a notable American man of letters.

Crimson Angel--the second third of the novel is set in Cuba, the final third in Haiti. Incredibly well-written.


Nov. 17th, 2018 11:11 pm (UTC)
I meant to thank you for getting this list of her Benjamin January stories. I'm looking for books to give to people for Christmas, and this will come in handy.
Nov. 22nd, 2018 03:47 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Always glad to spread some book love.
Nov. 3rd, 2018 12:37 pm (UTC)
I was a little nervous looking ahead to this episode as well, for many of the same reasons as you mentioned here. But I agree that they handled it really well overall. The vileness of racism and segregation was presented as blunt fact, but the goodness of ordinary people was also highlighted as it should be in DW.
Mack and I did find ourselves distracted by some of the accents, but that didn't even come close to ruining the ep or anything. Also I love Thirteen and her Companions. Not that I thought I wouldn't. :)

Also, if you liked this episode, may I recommend Timeless? It's an NBC show that has currently run two seasons, and is semi-canceled, sort of pending the ratings of the Christmas special that's airing on December 20. This episode of DW felt a *lot* like Timeless to Mack and me: dealing honestly with the hard things in history, while the team we're rooting for also tries to prevent the bad guys from messing it up too badly. Don't know if you have the time or inclination to check out a new show, but this one is excellent.
Nov. 3rd, 2018 07:03 pm (UTC)
Mack and I did find ourselves distracted by some of the accents

Heh. A lot of people mentioned that. Since I watched a lot of 1960s and 1970s British television in which so-called American accents were horrendous, laughable, or both, the accents in "Rosa" didn't bother me as much.

Finding the right balance for this episode must have been a very difficult job for Chibnall and Malorie Blackman, but they managed it very well. Now I want to find some of Blackman's YA books, to see how she handles racism; her "Noughts and Crosses" series, which is apparently called "Black and White" over here, plays with an alternate reality in which African cultures conquered the world, and promptly indulged in slavery and racism against non-African humans.
Nov. 4th, 2018 09:38 am (UTC)
Whoa, that sounds fascinating! I'll have to keep that in mind.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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